Boris might have been a good Czar except for that thing he did years ago: he murdered the child who was the true heir to Russia's throne. Now nightmares, his conscience, the Council of Ministers and a brewing rebellion threaten his rule.

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Cast

Episode cast overview, first billed only:
René Pape ...
Oleg Balashov ...
Prince Shuisky
Mikhail Petrenko ...
Pimen
Aleksandrs Antonenko ...
Grigory
Ekaterina Semenchuk ...
Marina
Evgeniy Nikitin ...
Rangoni (as Evgeny Nikitin)
Vladimir Ognovenko ...
Varlaam
Andrey Popov ...
Simpleton
Valerian Ruminski ...
Nikitich
Mikhail Svetlov ...
Mitiukha
Olga Savova ...
Innkeeper
Nikolai Gassiev ...
Missail
Gennady Bezzubenkov ...
Officer
Jennifer Zeltan ...
Xenia
Jonathan A. Makepeace ...
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Storyline

Boris might have been a good Czar except for that thing he did years ago: he murdered the child who was the true heir to Russia's throne. Now nightmares, his conscience, the Council of Ministers and a brewing rebellion threaten his rule.

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classical | See All (1) »

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23 October 2010 (USA)  »

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This is the day of reckoning for the sins of Boris
7 April 2012 | by (Birmingham, England) – See all my reviews

My serious interest in opera started in 1999. It has been an exhilarating journey but one that has not yet arrived at a destination called Mussorgsky. I did catch the 2001 brutalist production from Saltzburg but I only persevered for about 20 minutes before being repelled by the ugly staging and difficult music.

This production by Stephen Wadsworth for the Met is much more user-friendly. He avoids the modern cliché of updating Tsarist operas to a Stalinist era. The glorious costumes are traditional, although not necessarily 16th century. With a cast of 200 and 600 costumes the stage is very crowded and, I imagine backstage is even more crowded. Sets are evocative rather than detailed so that, for instance, the first four scenes in a monastery, in the Kremlin, in a monk's cell and in an inn on the Lithuanian border can take place without a break.

The opera is based on a play by Pushkin and Mussorgsky presents a cross-section of Russian life in a series of loosely connected episodes, rather like a 16th century War and Peace. The opera exists in many versions. It was rejected by the Mariinsky Theatre in 1869, the main reason being that it lacked a female role. The revised, 1872 version was also criticised for being musically and dramatically inept. Several composers, including Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich have produced their own versions in an attempt to remedy the perceived faults in the opera.

This Met production uses the 1872 version with one or two additions from 1869. In scale and structure it reminds me of Gotterdammerung although it is certainly less hummable than the Wagner. Rene Pape emotes well in his long soliloquies but left me largely unmoved. The huge choruses have a more immediate impact. I also enjoyed the tender music with which the Polish princess Marina seduces the Pretender Grigoriy. Marina, of course, is a role added to the 1872 version to give the opera more sex appeal. Ekaterina Semenchuk and Alexanders Antonenko are effective here in a cast that, with the exception of Rene Pape, seems to be authentically Russian.

The story traces Boris's guilt for having murdered the Tsarevich heir so that he could accede to the throne. In parallel there is the story of the monk, Grigoriy who pretends to be the dead Tsarevich in order snatch the throne. He is aided by sundry Poles, Lithuanians and even the Catholic Church, seeking to reclaim Russia from the heresy of orthodoxy. The Russian people, gripped by famine and deprivation are all too ready to believe in Grigoriy's unlikely claim. It's interesting how history repeated itself in the 20th Century with the woman who fraudulently claimed to be the dead Princess Anastasia.

I saw this production during the London mayoralty campaign with the incumbent Boris Johnson fighting off the challenge of Ken Livingstone. Many of the subtitles could readily be adapted as campaign slogans on one side or the other. How about: "this is the day of reckoning for the sins of Boris".


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